Suffolk '20 years behind' in support for bus services, says transport boss

Ipswich Buses vehicle

The government aims to make buses more attractive to passengers. - Credit: B Dickson

Suffolk is 20 years behind other parts of the country in supporting bus services, Ipswich Buses' managing director has warned.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced at the country's bus industry will get a £3billion boost for new environmentally-friendly vehicles, more bus lanes and greater support for services.

He has also pledged to improve ticketing to allow passengers to switch between different bus providers. 

But Ipswich Buses general manager Steve Bryce warned there would need to be a gear change if the changes were to be made in Suffolk.

Stephen Bryce

Stephen Bryce of Ipswich Buses - Credit: Ipswich Buses

He said: “The news of the national strategy for buses is really welcome news and it's exciting that buses now have their own platform to support the reverse of the national decline in bus usage and demonstrate that the bus is a credible and green alternative to the private car.

“A key to delivering this strategy is effective partnerships and Suffolk County Council now need to come to the table and work with bus operators and other authorities to achieve this.

"I would say in Suffolk we are 20 years behind some of the leading and effective partnerships in this country, such as those in Nottingham or Oxford, which have bucked the national trend and grown bus patronage year on year.

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"Outside of London, the majority of local bus services are operated as a commercial model so more passengers means more investment.”  

In most other parts of the country, counties or unitary councils have set up organisations which allow bus companies to share each others' tickets without falling foul of competition legislation.

Suffolk has always resisted that, claiming there was no need for one.

That means it is not possible to buy through tickets using more than one operator's vehicle - or using different operators' buses with a return bus ticket.

Most large towns and cities in the country have these arrangements, including Colchester and Norwich.

Andrew Reid,

Andrew Reid, cabinet member for transport at Suffolk County Council. - Credit: Simon Lee

Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for transport, Andrew Reid, did not address Mr Bryce's concerns but said the council welcomed the government announcement.

He said: “This is a real opportunity for a change in bus usage, with the potential of making public transport a viable option for many more Suffolk residents.

“In addition, this would assist the county’s green economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and contribute to Suffolk County Council’s carbon neutral by 2030 action plan.”

“Following the announcement from the Department for Transport this morning, we will now discuss options with local transport providers.”

Mr Bryce said there needed to be a culture change to how transport authorities saw his industry.

"For too long, buses have not had the priorities or respect they deserve and our reliability is plagued by many factors out of our control," he said.

"No-one would go and dump a set of temporary traffic lights (or signals) with no notice on the Ipswich to London mainline at rush hour but it is totally acceptable to do this on bus routes and poorly manage the works.

“There is a real desire from myself and Ipswich Buses to play a leading role in the transformation of the communities we serve and there is so much that can be done.

"Prior to Covid, despite all the challenges we face we saw year on year growth on our core commercial network by offering a consistent and well delivered product.

"As we come out of the pandemic, we need to build upon this success for our future generations as in the long run poor air quality will kill more people than coronavirus.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the National Express depot in Coventry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the National Express depot in Coventry to launch the bus policy. - Credit: PA

During the launch of the new scheme, Mr Johnson said: “Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment.

“As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up."

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said bus services across England are “patchy, and it’s frankly not good enough”, adding: “The quality of bus service you receive shouldn’t be dependent on where you live.”